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INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR

INTERVIEW MIT DER REGISSEURIN

Susanne Regina Meures

Why did you make a film about an influencer?

It all started in 2017. I was in Berlin when I saw a group of girls in a park doing slow-motion pantomime. Now we all know TikTok, but back then I felt like I was entering a new universe of presentation and self-reflection. I wondered what made up this modern girl gang, hence the title of the film. I wanted to know who they are and how they think.

 

When did you first learn about Leonie?

I talked to about 160 girls between the ages of 12 and 15 until I met Leonie at a social media event. She was 13 years old and already had half a million followers. She combined all the characteristics of a girl living her life on social media. Leonie‘s story seemed to be the perfect modern adventure about dreams, illusions, and self-perception at a time when 86% of teens surveyed say they want to become influencers.

The title indicates a group, although the film only follows a single influencer.

Why did you keep this distinction?

I had originally planned to make a film about a group of girls, Leonie and her friends. When I started shooting, I quickly realized that this film was not about Leonie and her friends, but about her and her family. That was the core of the story. As I delved into Leonie‘s social media spheres, it dawned on me that the modern girl gang is no longer the group of girls at the park. It‘s the millions of girls who congregate online to hang out. Although I shifted my focus, the movie title that was there from the beginning became even more relevant.

You followed Leonie and her parents over a period of four years. Aside from becoming rich and famous, how have they changed on a personal level?

They are incredibly busy today. Their daily lives are dictated by work assignments and the pressure to produce content. Family life has become a business, especially since Leonie‘s parents took over her management. I could see the lightness and laughter dwindling as

Leonie entered puberty - a time that is not easy in any household on the planet. Her parents find themselves in an even more difficult situation: having to protect Leonie as a parent while pushing her to pursue her work. Not an easy task. But I have never seen them seriously question their life choice. It has become their reality.

Sequences of Leonie visiting shopping malls amid a throng of screaming young fans are reminiscent of footage of the Beatles from the early 1960s. If this kind of teenage fanaticism has always had a certain intensity, how has that culture changed now that it‘s oriented around influencers rather than pop idols? 

It‘s not the same as it was in the 1960s with the Beatles or in the 1990s with all the boy bands. Now we have fan - girls crying and swooning over their female influencer idols. Leonie‘s success is her accessibility. She is her friend and she shares almost every part of her life with her fans. Her fans can send her messages. She is seemingly so close that they can almost touch her. Instagram is a bit like a schoolyard, Leonie is the popular and desired girl. The others project their dreams of a better self and Leonie is perfect for that, precisely because she is so similar.

 

They introduced the character of Melanie - a fan who develops a strong bond with Leonie - to reflect this.

Today, fans are more mobile, traveling internationally to gatherings, forming groups and communities. Often, fans themselves become leaders again, as Melanie does in the film. She is Leonie‘s biggest fan, but has thousands of followers on Instagram herself. Today, fans can engage in a much wider range of activities: Edit content, post comments, share photos and videos. As a result, fans are actively appropriating popular culture content and giving it new and original meaning. The balance has shifted, giving fans more power and control.

Why did you use framing elements like the fairy tale and a choral score? To work with or even against a very digitally driven narrative?

The story has all the qualities of a modern fairy tale, and I knew the film needed an extra layer. The beginning of „Once Upon a Time“ creates a distance from something we see every day: People, or girls for that matter, glued to their cell phones. I believe that through the fairy tale we look at the images again with a fresher eye and more curiously. We understand that we are witnessing something extraordinary. The music connects the audience to the religious quality of the theme, to the longing for belonging that we all feel within us.

Leonie and her family would probably not share the film‘s rather ambivalent view of the influencer economy. How important was it to find the right balance between the views?

Since we started shooting GIRL GANG, a lot of films have come out about social media. The films are mostly educational in nature and try to warn viewers. That‘s fine. However, I have a different approach. To understand the world and portray it through my eyes, I like to crawl into the center of things and turn them inside out. Of course, I shape the story through my own understanding and interpret the protagonists‘ universe as I experience it. But it‘s not my job to judge their life choices.

INTERVIEW MIT LEONIE (LEOOBALYS)

INTERVIEW WITH LEONIE

Leoobalys

The film shows three years of your life. Are there things you would do differently today?

I would show my parents more that I appreciate what they do for me. In the film I was going through puberty and sometimes I was pretty mean to them.

 

What are the most important changes you went through during that time?

I learned that people don‘t just mean well by me. That there are managers who don‘t pay enough attention to you. And I‘ve learned to distinguish which friends- hips are really important and remain so.

 

Have you also become more suspicious?

Yes, definitely. Especially in business. You have to be very careful and think everything through.

Is there anything you regret?

No, nothing.

 

Do you spend too much time on your cell phone?

I do spend a lot of time on my cell phone. But I have a balance to it. Soccer, for example. Or a game night with my parents, where I put my cell phone away completely.

 

You‘re hardly ever seen on film in your free time. Do you find time for friends?

For me, it‘s just that my job and my free time get mixed up. Most of the time, I document what I do in my private life on social media. And that often includes friends who are important to me. The film focuses very much on the business side and less on my free time.

 

What was it actually like for you to hand over control of your image to Sue, the director?

It‘s a very hard feeling because there‘s something being cut that you can‘t control. But I have nothing to hide. You have arguments sometimes, you look like a potato sometimes. I even think it‘s good that you can see that. Also because other parents see that not only their children are in a bad mood.

 

How does it feel to have over 1 million followers?

That‘s totally rad.

 

But does it also make you happy?

Yes, of course! Just that feeling that people are behind you. For example, when I post about my graduation and then people are happy for me. Or I also like that I get tips from people.

 

Do you have a dream that you still want to achieve?

I prefer to keep my goals private. I don‘t want to announce them in a big way and then maybe not achieve them. I‘d rather look back and say: I achieved that, that was my goal. But I definitely have dreams.

 

Is the Leonie on social media different from the private Leonie?

No. I show myself the way I am in private. When I go out for vegan food and show myself like that, it‘s because I also like vegan food in my private life.

 

Your parents are also kind of like your work colleagues... You share job and family life.

Yeah, which I think is totally awesome.

 

Isn‘t that a bit much sometimes?

Yes, there are arguments. But I think it‘s totally great that I can share everything with my parents. What happens at school, in soccer, business. My mother can be my best friend and go shopping with me at the same time.

 

Others your age are just breaking away from their parents. How does that work for you?

Not much different. When I go to a bar with my friends, my parents aren‘t always there either. And vice versa, they get together for a couples‘ night out, for example, where I‘m not there.

 

Did you never have the impression that you were missing out on something because you work so much as an influencer?

No. For example, I never felt the need to go out partying in a big way and shoot myself down with alcohol. I‘ve stayed the way I am. My youth is normal. I do a lot with girlfriends and I meet boys like any other girl. I do my job for fun, I got into it that way. And I still have time to try other things.

 

And what advice would you give to young people who want to become social media stars?

There are dangers lurking in social networks. For example, you have to be careful who you work with. You shouldn‘t trust just anyone. And be careful what you post. It‘s best to let 16 your parents look over it. You shouldn‘t hide it from them, but confide in them.

What message in the film is important to you personally?

Some people think you don‘t have to be able to do anything if you‘re an influencer. Nobody saw me editing videos until 3 a.m. when I was 13 years old. Thanks to the film, you can see how much work and planning goes into it.

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